Implications of NATO Intervention in Kosovo
The war waged by NATO against Yugoslavia in 1999 marks a significant turning point, not only for America and NATO but also for "the West" as a whole. The principle of state sovereignty, and of the rule of law itself, has been subverted in the name of an allegedly humanitarian ideology. Facts have been converted into fiction, and even the fictions invoked to justify the act are giving up all pretense to credibility. Old systems for the protection of national liberties, political, legal and economic, have now been subverted into vehicles for their destruction.
But so far from demonstrating the vigor of Western ruling elites in their ruthless pursuit of an ideology of multi-ethnic democracy and international human rights, the whole Balkan entanglement may be as a disturbing revelation of those ruling elites’ moral and cultural decay. I shall therefore devote my remarks to the consequences of the war for the emerging new international system, and ultimately for the security and stability of the Western world itself. Almost a decade separated ‘Desert Storm’ from ‘Humanitarian Bombing.’
In 1991 the Maastricht Treaty was signed, and the rest of the decade has brought the gradual usurpation of traditional European sovereignty by a corporate-controlled Brussels regime of unelected bureaucrats who now feel bold enough to tell Austria how to run its domestic affairs. On this side of the ocean we had the passage of NAFTA and in 1995 the Uruguay round of GATT gave us the WTO. The nineties were thus a decade of gradual foundation laying for the new international order.
The denigration of sovereign nationhood hypnotized the public into applauding the dismantling of the very institutions that offered the only hope of representative empowerment. The process is sufficiently far advanced for President Clinton to claim ("A Just and Necessary War," NYT, May 23, 1999) that, had it not bombed Serbia, "NATO itself would have been discredited for failing to defend the very values that give it meaning." The war was in fact both unjust and unnecessary, but the significance of Mr. Clinton’s statement is in that he has openly declared null and void the international system in existence ever since the Peace of Westphalia (1648).
It was an imperfect and often violated system, but nevertheless it provided the basis for international discourse from which only the assorted red and black totalitarians have openly deviated. Since 24 March 1999 this is being replaced by the emerging Clinton Doctrine, a carbon copy of the Brezhnev doctrine of limited sovereignty that supposedly justified the Soviet-led occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1968. Like his Soviet predecessor, Mr. Clinton used an abstract and ideologically loaded notion that of universal "human rights" as the pretext to violate the law and tradition.
The Clinton Doctrine is rooted in the bipartisan hubris of Washington’s foreign policy "elite," tipsy on its own heady brew of the "world’s last and only superpower." Legal formalities are passé, and moral imperatives never sacrosanct in international affairs are replaced by a cynical exercise in situational morality, dependent on an actor’s position within the superpower ’s value system. And so imperial high-mindedness is back, but in a new form. Old religion, national flags and nationalist rivalry play no part.
But the yearning for excitement and importance, that took the British to Peking, Kabul and Khartoum, the French to Fashoda and Saigon, and the Americans to Manila, has now re-emerged. As a result a war was waged on an independent nation because it refused foreign troops on its soil. All other justifications are post facto rationalizations. The powers that waged that war have aided and abetted secession by an ethnic minority, secession that once formally effected will render many European borders tentative. In the context of any other European nation the story would sound surreal.
The Serbs, however, have been demonized to the point where they must not presume to be treated like others. But the fact that the West could do anything it chose to the Serbs does not explain why it should. It is hardly worth refuting, yet again, the feeble excuses for intervention. "Humanitarian" argument has been invoked. But what about Kashmir, Sudan, Uganda, Angola, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Algeria? Properly videotaped and Amanpourized, each would be good for a dozen "Kosovos".
There was no "genocide," of course. Compared to the killing fields of the Third World Kosovo was an unremarkable, low-intensity conflict, uglier perhaps than Northern Ireland a decade ago, but much less so than Kurdistan. A total of 2,108 fatalities on all sides in Kosovo until June 1999, in a province of over two million, favorably compares to the annual homicide tally of 450 in Washington D.C. (population 600,000). Counting corpses is poor form, but bearing in mind the brutalities and "ethnic cleansings" ignored by NATO or even condoned, notably in Croatia in 1995, or in eastern Turkey it is clear that "Kosovo" is not about universal principles.
In Washington Abdullah Ocalan is a terrorist, but KLA are freedom fighters. What was it about, then? "Regional stability", we were told next: if we didn ’t stop the conflict it would engulf Macedonia, Greece, Turkey, the whole of the Balkans in fact, with much of Europe to follow. But the cure bombing Serbia into detaching an ethnically pure-Albanian Kosovo to the KLA narco-mafia, under NATO’s benevolent eye will unleash a chain reaction throughout the ex-Communist half of Europe. Its first victim will be the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia, where the restive Albanian minority comprises a third of the total population. And will the Pristina model not be demanded by the Hungarians in Rumania (more numerous than Kosovo’s Albanians), and in southern Slovakia?
What will stop the Russians in the Ukraine, in Moldova, in Estonia, and in northern Kazakhstan from following suit? Or the Serbs and Croats in the chronically unstable and unviable Dayton-Bosnia? And finally, when the Albanians get their secession on the grounds of their numbers, will the same apply when the Latinos in southern California or Texas eventually outnumber their Anglo neighbors and start demanding bilingual statehood, leading to reunification with Mexico? Are Russia and China to threaten the United States with bombing if Washington does not comply?
The outcome in Kosovo, for now, is in line with a deeply flawed model of the new Balkan order that seeks to satisfy the aspirations of all ethnic groups in former Yugoslavia except the Serbs. This is a disastrous strategy for all concerned. Even if forced into submission now, the Serbs shall have no stake in the ensuing order of things. Sooner or later they will fight to recover Kosovo.
The Carthaginian peace imposed on the Serbs today will cause chronic imbalance and strife for decades to come. It will entangle the West in a Balkan quagmire, and guarantee a new war as soon as Mr. Clinton’s successors lose interest in underwriting the ill-gotten gains of America’s Balkan clients. NATO has won, for now, but "the West" has lost. The war has undermined the very principles that constitute the West, namely the rule of law. The notion of "human rights" can never provide a basis for either the rule of law or morality. "Universal human rights," detached from any rootedness in time or place, will be open to the latest whim of outrage or the latest fad for victimhood.
The misguided effort to transform NATO from a defensive alliance into a mini-U.N. with "out-of-area" self-appointed responsibilities, is a certain road to more Bosnias and more Kosovos down the line. Now that the Clintonistas and NATO were "successful" in Kosovo, we can expect new and even more dangerous adventures elsewhere.
But next time around the Russians, Chinese, Indians and others will know better than to buy the slogans about free markets and democratic human rights, and the future of "the West" in the eventually inevitable conflict may be uncertain. Canada should ponder the implications of this course, and gather the courage to say "no" to global interventionism for its own sake, and for the sake of peace and stability in the world. Is it really obliged to watch in undissenting submission as a long, dangerous military experiment is mounted which will lead us to a real war for Central Asia? Will it soon be ‘defending’ new KLAs against ‘genocide’ along Russia’s Islamic rim, among ethnic groups as yet unknown to the Western press that can provide a series of excuses for intervention, all as good, that is as bad, as the Kosovo Albanian excuse?
Was Canada’s imperial history so sweet that it must seek another imperial command-center, in Washington, to compensate for the loss of London? Does Canada today feel comfortable with the emerging truth: that it has less freedom of choice about war and peace than it did as a free Dominion under the old Statute of Westminster? For there can be no doubt that the war NATO was fighting in April and May 1999 was not intended, or willed, by anything which can be called the Alliance, when the use of force was plotted inside the Beltway in 1998. It is worth asking how far this re-acquisition of minor imperial status by Canada and other NATO members is creating a media-led political process that leaves national decision-making meaningless, beyond a formal cheer-leading function.
It is also worth asking how it came to be that the chief war aim of NATO was ‘keeping the Alliance together’, what disciplines it implies, and how easily, and bloodily, it can be repeated. The moral absolutism that was invoked by the proponents of intervention as a substitute for rational argument can no longer be sustained. Genuine dilemmas about our human responsibility for one another must not be used to reactivate the viral imperialism of the re-extended West. The more arrogant the new doctrine, the greater the willingness to lie for the truth. To be capable of "doing something" sustains moral self-respect, if we can suppress the thought that we are not so much moral actors as consumers of predigested choices.
At the onset of the Millenium we are living in a virtual Coliseum where exotic and nasty troublemakers can be killed not by lions but by the magical flying machines of the Imperium. As the candidates for punishment or martyrdom are pushed into the arena, many denizens of "the West" react to the show as imperial consumers, not as citizens with a parliamentary right and a democratic duty to question the proceedings. May the results of your present inquiry prove me wrong. Thank you.
Srdja Trifkovic is the foreign affairs editor of Chronicles and the executive editor of the Lord Byron Foundation for Balkan Studies. He is a former correspondent for the BBC, US News and World Report, and the Voice of America.
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